Editor: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
“If you enjoy your games, have a little respect for the people who make them – and stop threatening them with bodily harm every time they do their job.” – Dan Amrich, Activision Community Manager
It sounds like a ludicrous statement, doesn’t it? You may think “Who the hell threatens game developers?”, “What did they do that warranted such a backlash?”, or “Is this an isolated incident?”, but over the past couple of weeks, David Vonderhaar’s Twitter interactions have been buzzing with threats over the following changes that were applied to weapons in the Call of Duty: Black Ops II’s multiplayer:
Multiplayer Game Balancing
- AN-94: Damage slightly reduced.
- DSR 50: Rate of fire reduced.
- Ballista: Rate of fire slightly reduced.
The DSR fire time was 0.2 seconds. It’s now 0.4 seconds. The rechamber time was 1.0 seconds. It’s now 1.1 seconds. +
— David Vonderhaar (@DavidVonderhaar) July 23, 2013
The sprintinTime was 0.25 seconds. It’s now 0.30 seconds. SprintoutTime was 0.25 seconds. It’s now 0.30 seconds. +
— David Vonderhaar (@DavidVonderhaar) July 23, 2013
These sound quite minor, don’t they? A little less damage on a dreadfully accurate assault rifle, and some minutely reduced scoping and firing times on two of the popular sniper rifles – both with the aim of balancing the game so that sniper rifles are not ideal CQB weapons and the AN-94 isn’t the sole bringer of death in-game. That’s not how a part of the Twitter community interpreted it:
@DavidVonderhaar YOU CANCEROUS IDIOT HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT THE FUCKING LMG’S AUTISTIC PIECE OF SHIT
— Obey xSW (@ObeyxSW) July 23, 2013
@DavidVonderhaar end your fucking life you cancer cunt i will fuck your daughter
— Genesis Erik (@ERlKTweets) July 23, 2013
Let’s just put this in perspective – The AN-94 was the only weapon weakened in this update, and there are very few complaints about this (validly too, it must be said as the AN-94 was both very accurate and very powerful), but the DSR and Ballista both had their fire rates and scoping times dropped by values that are within fractions of seconds, miniscule changes that balance the title towards close quarters combat being favoured towards SMGs and Assault Rifles – certainly not an action which requires death in anything other than online multiplayer. A later tweet by David Vonderhaar echoed the sentiment in that he didn’t see how these threats of violence were an appropriate response to minute changes in how Black Ops II’s multiplayer functions.
Quite frankly, they aren’t appropriate responses.
I’m not sure why I’m surprised though, considering this isn’t the first time that Call of Duty’s community has been described as toxic. In fact, it only takes a few matches online to realise just how unwelcoming the community can be. On Xbox Live, I recently got the opportunity to play some Modern Warfare 3 with a friend online, being new to the game on Xbox 360, (but not on PS3, where I have owned the game since launch) I started at level 1. Within three rounds, I’d been sworn at, asked why I was even bothering to play and called out as a noob via messaging, which was followed by a request to join a 2v2 (as we were playing splitscreen). While I wasn’t playing at my best – or even at a relatively high level of performance, I was still ending 4th or 5th on average, often well above those who saw fit to insult me.
However, even on PS3, I’ve been accused of hacking, insulted and threatened (with the inclusion of my family in those threats quite often). While in the past, I have been quite volatile to these negative aspects of the online community, I generally choose to ignore them, however, what possesses someone to be such a flagrant asshole to another gamer?
The easiest answer is internet anonymity. If little Johnny Smith from down the road tells you that he’s going to engage in sexual relations with your sister, murder your family and take a dump on your corpse, you can deal with him very, very quickly in varying degrees of violence. However, if xX_kUsH_SniPEr_420_goD_Xx says these things to you, you can retaliate or ignore him, but I think there’s another issue – servers aren’t moderated enough. The lack of moderation – specifically on Call of Duty servers, means that players can go around doing whatever they want to – from giving other players grief, to abusing in-game glitches, to outright hacking.
The moderation problem could also come into effect on Twitter – while accounts do get banned and users can get blocked, many users don’t get blocked for saying horrific things to developers (or other gamers for that matter), including the users whose tweets are linked above. While it could be argued that the use and inclusion of the block function means that users really shouldn’t have to be policed, I disagree. Even when some form of personal restriction is in place, there should still be moderation. Game developers like David Vonderhaar, Dan Amrich and countless others – including the BioWare staff after the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle and Dragon Age 2, and Microsoft after the first Xbox One policies were announced shouldn’t have to put up with threads of physical violence against them and their loved ones, just because no one can tell who is threatening them.
Needless to say, it shouldn’t go the other way either – Adam Orth showed earlier this year what being unprofessional on social media in an official regard ends with, whereas the previously mentioned David Vonderhaar has shown nothing but professionalism in his dealings with the public, even with the hatred speeding at him like a sniper’s bullet (which fired .2 seconds later than what the shooter was used to). However, the recent bust-up over Twitter (once again) between Gametrailers’ journalist, Marcus Beer and Fez Developer Phil Fish (who has his own checkered past with controversy on the internet) shows that errors and overreaction can certainly come from both sides.
Marcus Beer, also know as Annoyed Gamer, took a dim view of Fish’s refusal to comment on the policy change which would allow indie devs to self-publish on the Xbox One. In Gametrailers’ latest Invisible Walls video, the self-titled Annoyed Gamer launched a profanity filled rant on the indie dev, going so far as to call him a number of names – including “tosspot” and “hipster” while criticising his attitude towards the media. Fish responded by having a meltdown on Twitter (Courtesy of GameFront: 1 2 3 4 5, please note that the chronological order is bottom of “1” to top of “5”) and cancelling Fez 2.
While I agree with neither of their initial actions, two important points must be noted:
- The Annoyed Gamer persona donned by Marcus Beer is renowned for profanity-laden tirades on the actions of developers, publishers and other elements in gaming, therefore Phil Fish was not the first developer to be exposed to Marcus’ rage, whereas he may have had the harshest reaction.
- Marcus Beer took responsibility for actions, claimed that the views were his (and not those of Gametrailers) and explained his points to anyone who asked. Additionally, over the past few days he has gladly answered many of the interactions regarding the altercation with Fish and has continued with his job. Alternately, Phil Fish has cancelled his and Polytron’s biggest endeavour, he has left his job and blocked his Twitter account. Both users were bombarded with hatred from trolls and fans of the others’ work (which can be seen by looked down AnnoyedGamer’s Twitter feed or at the pictures of Phil Fish’s timeline).
I take no pleasure in what has happened today. I am taking all the comments on board, both positive & negative & figuring out what’s next.
— Marcus Beer (@AnnoyedGamer) July 27, 2013
Phil Fish’s history with the media is hardly spotless either, however, as he has been involved in numerous incidences of insulting niche groups of gamers, posting derogatory remarks on Twitter (2) and involving himself negatively with certain members of the media (often related to said remarks). While I don’t agree with a lot of the remarks that were exchanged between the two, the hate that both received from the community – Fish told to give up, go kill himself and get a grip, and Beer told that he was the worst person on earth, he got Fez 2 cancelled and he “killed creativity”.
Disrespecting game devs is not a new issue, but over the past couple of years it has degenerated from gamers calling out the lacklustre work of devs, to insulting their integrity as humans and has extended to threats of physical violence. While internet anonymity certainly aids this, I can’t fairly say it is the sole cause. Is it a sense of entitlement? Akin to what Tracy discussed in her article, where gamers basically give no value to the work of a developer, only more pervasive in demanding that guns work a certain way and games release in a certain manner. Is it the belief of gamers that programmers and designers are nameless bots whose feelings are not affected when someone hates their game? Or is it a problem in the media, where we believe that the actual product is more important than the people that made it, therefore if it isn’t up to the insane expectations that gamers place on huge titles or a patch is released that corrects a fault that they were taking, it is immediately the fault of the developer, not the result of a dynamic community aspect or other limiting factors? I can’t honestly answer this. It may be a combination of any or all of these three ideas, or it could be something completely different. I can’t fathom a reason why anyone would threaten another person’s life over a virtual gun or a few choice words in/against the media.
Dan Amrich raises a very good point in his article, where he says that even though this threatening crowd is a vocal minority, they are still the loudest and best broadcast scions of our industry. A demographic is always judged by its most prominent undesirable elements; in terms of gamers, we get judged by the online gamers who have all slept with their enemies’ mothers, we are assessed on how the media and developers interact with one another and we are looked down upon when a tweak in a game changes small statistics on a popular weapon and the developers of this title get told to die or threatened with murder. As a community we need to grow up – and I’m not talking about the average age of a gamer.
The maturity shown in all three of these situations, both by developers like Phil Fish, to the camper in CoD who explains his acquintance to your family in explicit detail, is questionable. It mires the most vivid form of expressive media, tarnishes the credibility of interactive media as an artistic representation and devalues gaming as a social hobby. It causes non-gamers to look down condescendingly on our passion because we can’t even talk to one another without a racist, sexist or discriminatory comment being spewed forth like putrid bile.
Although it’s something I recommend – policing social networks, online servers and gaming sites won’t solve this. The only thing that will make the community as a whole better is if everyone can take a step back and consider other people’s feelings before trashing their hard work. If we can sort out the core disparity of respect between gamers within the industry, we can foster a pleasant community – one filled with fan service that commonly assesses how games can improve, one filled with gamers who want to help other players learn and one that will help innovative concepts truly prosper under well-supported developers.
What do you think would work for the community? Do gamers need to adjust their thought process? Are developer standards dipping too far? Or is the depiction of gaming in the media causing a misinterpretation of both sides of the industry? Let us know what you think in the comments.